Developer Interview with Frozenbyte: “Wii U is a truly powerful console”

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The Wii U has been out for over half a year now and we’ve seen some truly strong indie titles hit the platform, with many more to come. One of the launch indie titles was Trine 2: Director’s Cut (which was the enhanced and ultimate version of Trine 2) that graced the console day one. I had the opportunity to speak with Julius Fondem, the Marketing Manager over at Frozenbyte, about their experience developing for the Wii U, as well as a bit of info about their new upcoming game, Splot.

Marcello: First off, thanks for taking the time to provide us an interview Julius. It’s been quite some time since Trine 2: Director’s Cut was released for the Wii U. How did you guys go about choosing to bring Trine 2 to the console? Did you guys approach Nintendo or did they approach you?

Julius: No problem, it’s my pleasure! Nintendo approached us before Trine 2 was released and asked us if we were interested in developing something for their upcoming console. We showed them Trine 2 and they definitely wanted to see it on Wii U. We were impressed with the hardware they were planning, and everything went very naturally from there.

Marcello: Trine 2: Director’s Cut is by far, one of the best looking games available on the Wii U. I did notice the visuals were crisper than those on the PS3/360. What was it like developing for the Wii U? Is it more powerful than the public seems to believe?

Julius: We have really enjoyed working with the Wii U hardware. It was rather easy to port our modern proprietary engine to it, and it does pack the punch to bring to life some really awesome visuals. The Wii U is a very modern console with a lot of RAM which helped us out a lot during development. The hardware capabilities have improved quite a lot from the original Wii, and the Wii U is a truly powerful console. The console is definitely more powerful than the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Marcello: Roughly how long did it take to develop Trine 2: Director’s Cut for the Wii U?

Julius: We started developing Trine 2 for Wii U in early 2012 so a bit under a year, all in all.

Marcello: Will we be seeing the three heroes return in the near future for another quest in Trine 3?

Julius: We here at Frozenbyte have great love for the franchise and definitely want to see the three heroes make a return.

Marcello: Were there any differences bringing your game to the Nintendo eShop compared to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade? If so, what were some of them?

Julius: With the eShop, Nintendo has made it easy to approach and open for indies which is awesome. Nintendo allows us to self publish our games, updating our game is free of charge, and the eShop is still so fresh that we have great visibility there.

With PSN and XBLA, it used to be that you had to have a publisher to publish your games (i.e. no self publishing) and updating the games cost a significant amount. Also, these platforms used to regulate things more than the eShop.

Now however, Sony has changed their game up quite a bit, making self publishing a reality for indies and making the platform a lot more approachable, which we really appreciate. As for XBLA, similar rumors have been circulating around recently but we don’t know enough to comment on that. .

Marcello: Now you guys are currently working on a new title called “Splot”. Could you describe a bit about the upcoming title?

Julius: Splot is a cartoony platformer with emphasis on simple controls and competition. In Splot you control an alien named Splot who has crash landed onto a foreign planet. You guide him through levels by jumping around avoiding perilous obstacles and hazards, while trying to save your lost brethren. Splot is coming out at a later date on iOS, Android, and computer platforms.

Marcello: How was your relationship working with Nintendo? Would you be working to bring future titles to the Wii U (such as Splot)?

Julius: Working with Nintendo is great. They are extremely supportive towards us (and I’ve heard similar words from other indies) and communicating with them is very easy. We appreciate this a lot.

We would definitely want to bring our future titles to the Wii U. With Splot though the situation is a bit more complex as the technology we’re using isn’t the same as for Trine 2: Director’s Cut, so there’s a lot of technical work in getting Splot running on “high end” consoles like the Wii U. We are pushing as hard as we can to get Splot out on iOS, Android and computer platforms first. Depending on Splot’s success, we’ll see about other platforms. So, we haven’t decided on the Wii U for Splot yet, but it is something we’re considering.

Marcello: Thanks for your time Julius. I look forward to seeing more about Splot and other future titles Frozenbyte releases!

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Trine 2: Director’s Cut Review (Wii U eShop): “An Adventure Worth Embarking On”

Throughout this generation of consoles, we’ve seen numerous indie developers create games that offer unique experiences from those that are already on the market. In 2009, indie developer Frozenbyte released a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that incorporated in-depth physics called Trine. The game received a solid amount of positive feedback, with the exception that it lacked an online co-op mode and forced those wanting to play together local only. In December of 2011, Frozenbyte released the sequel to their puzzle-platformer, Trine 2. Taking the elements of the first game, while expanding upon them in practically every department, Trine 2 was the improvement many fans of the first game appreciated. Now, with any new hardware comes the opportunity for developers to provide enhanced versions of their previously released games. In this regard, Frozenbyte saw the Wii U as a very suitable platform to bring Trine 2 to Nintendo fans who never got to experience this game, along with quite a few additions and exclusive features. However, did Trine 2: Director’s Cut translate over well to the Wii U and is it worth double-dipping for those who already experienced it on the PS3, 360, PC and/or Mac?

Trine 2 follows the events of the first game, in which we find the wizard Amadeus waking up in his home to see a glowing light piercing through his room. After going after the light, Amadeus then realizes that it is the Trine, which reunites him with Pontius (the Knight) and Zoya (the Thief). The Trine brings the heroes together once again as they’re help is needed to restore the kingdom. Along the way, the heroes will run into Rosabel, the Princess of the kingdom, and aid her with vanquishing all the evil in the land. The story is told as if someone were narrating a fairy tale, while there is some banter amongst the characters and some storybook sequences to watch. Additionally, there are poems and letters that can be found in levels that provide a bit more background to the story being told. It’s a charming story and one that evolves as you progress deeper into the game.

Yes, the game looks that amazing!

There are a number of elements that Trine 2: Director’s Cut truly achieves. Let’s start with the gameplay. As mentioned earlier, Trine 2 is a side-scrolling, puzzle-platformer that relies heavily on physics. You’ll take control of Amadeus, Pontius and Zoya, as each one of them will excel in a variety of situations. Amadeus can conjure up mechanical blocks and planks to help the heroes traverse through the environment. He can also interact with the objects within the environment to help solve certain puzzles or further help the heroes navigate ahead. However, when it comes to battling goblins or other creatures, the wizard doesn’t quite excel here. Pontius is a all-out offense character. When it comes to combat, Pontius can clear out waves of creatures standing in the heroes’ way, whether with his trusty sword and shield or with his hammer. He can also utilize his shield to press forward through areas that have projectiles blocking your path. Zoya is more the all-range character. Her combat is more long-distance, resorting to her utilizing the bow and arrow. One of her neatest qualities is traversing with the grappling hook. You’ll be able to attach the grappling hook to any wooden object or ceiling and either climb, descend or swing your way across. As a puzzle-platformer, Trine 2 doesn’t offer a strict design in terms of solutions. There’s always a solution to an environmental puzzle, whether it’s the way the developers intended or more creative methods by the player. It’s an interesting execution, as it doesn’t restrict players from thinking a bit “outside the box” and being creative on how to advance through the levels.

Progressing through the environments, you’ll find blue experience jars that can be collected, some more difficult to nab than others. Every 50 experience points you get will grant you a Skill Point. Pressing the Minus Button, you’ll open up the Skill Tree, in which you’ll be able to distribute points amongst the three heroes. Amadeus can upgrade his conjuring ability to create up to four blocks at once, or even imprison goblins in battle. Pontius can upgrade his sword to have fire surround it for more damage, make his shield magnetic and also throw his hammer across the screen. Zoya will be able to upgrade her arrow types such as ice and explosion, while also getting a stealth ability. If, for any reason, you’re not crazy about the way you upgraded the heroes, you can reset the skill points and respec your characters. In Director’s Cut, each of the heroes have received an extra exclusive ability to upgrade them to. Amadeus can conjure magnetic objects to stick to each other, Pontius can use his shield to glide across chasms, and Zoya can shoot low-gravity arrows that create a field that slows everything down. Each of the heroes’ new abilities are certainly welcome additions and actually add a new element of play to the game.

Naturally, with the Wii U GamePad, one would wonder how the developer took advantage of the screen incorporated on there. Well, Frozenbyte has provided a few implementations. First off, the whole game is displayed on both the TV and GamePad at all times. However, aside from playing the game with your standard buttons, you can also play it taking advantage of the stylus and touch screen. When playing with the stylus, you’ll use your left hand to control your character with the control stick, while using the ZL Button to jump. Meanwhile, you’ll use the stylus to control the rest of your actions. For example, when playing as Amadeus, you’ll be able to quickly draw out blocks and planks, and move them with ease. As Pontius, you’ll be able to attack enemies while tapping the screen, as well as switch weapons and aim/throw his hammer. As Zoya, you’ll be able to aim and shoot your bow, and also choose your arrow type. You can also switch between the characters by simply tapping their portrait on the top-left of the screen. One thing I always preferred doing with the GamePad screen was accessing my Skill Tree. For some reason, the brightness and contrast of the wording seemed a bit blown-out on the TV, where as the GamePad’s screen was less obtrusive.

Trine 2: Director’s Cut contains not only the 13 levels from the original campaign, but also the six levels from the PC-exclusive “Goblin Menace” DLC, as well as an exclusive level only available on the Wii U. Once you complete the main campaign, you’ll go right into the Goblin Menace stages. The story continues with Amadeus’s wife being kidnapped from goblins and the heroes are under attack in the kingdom. From here, our heroes continue their quest, but to much more extravagant locales. They’ll venture through the scorching desert, floating islands, and even the insides of a beast. Personally, the stages incorporated here actually seemed to stand out a bit more than the original campaign’s. That’s not to say the original 13 levels were of lesser quality by any means, but the Goblin Menace stages were slightly more memorable. Additionally, you’ll have to find map pieces hidden in each of the Goblin Menace levels to unlock the 20th and final level that’s exclusive to the Wii U, the Dwarven Caverns. This stage serves as more of an epilogue to the two campaigns included and is a nice addition. The overall game is pretty lengthy, taking roughly 10+ hours to complete. While there is some replay value (such as finding every experience jar, all the hidden chests, and multiple difficulties and settings), there’s not much incentive to go back and replay the game. However, going back to play with other people online (and there’s a solid online community for the game) can certainly increase your mileage.

Throughout the game, you’ll encounter a few boss battles, which tend to get a bit intense. The bosses in this game will kill you…instantly, if you’re not quick on your feet. You normally can’t approach a boss head-on, swinging your sword like crazy and hope to win. This is a good thing, as a boss should always entail a challenge. While Trine 2’s boss aren’t “insanely” difficult, they maintain a solid challenge that will test your skills. The final boss battles in both the main campaign and Goblin Menace aren’t as difficult as the main bosses due to not being able to die instantly from them, but they’re still challenging battles that feel climatic.

Upon beating the game, you’ll unlock a few extra features to tinker around with. For starters, you’ll unlock “Hardcore Mode”, which only allows your characters to respawn when you reach a checkpoint once. Also, it removes any mid-level saving. If all your heroes fall, it’s back to the very beginning of the level. This is more for the old-school gaming fan and those really looking to test your skills. You can also now make the Player Selection “Unlimited” so that when you play online with other people, you’re not restricted to a character that’s not in play. Speaking of the online, I’m pleased to state that the game ran smooth as butter, with not an ounce of lag. While I played through the first three levels solo, I went back and played through the entire game with an online partner. Playing the game online with a friend is definitely the way to go, as chances are you’ll get even more enjoyment out of the game helping each other…or laughing at each other’s mistakes. While there’s no “invite” system per se, you can set your online game to have a “Friends Only” parameter so that you’re friends can see your lobby and join. My online partner never had a single issue joining into the lobby and really provided for a seamless experience. At the moment, there’s no voice chat support. However, Frozenbyte has stated they are rolling out an update this month (should be any day now) that will have the feature ready to go.

When it comes to the visual and audio presentation of Trine 2: Director’s Cut, it’s simply a spectacle. Visually, Trine 2 is absolutely beautiful. It’s full of color, lush detail and incredibly rich texture work. This is one of those games where your jaw will hit the ground when you see how stunning the environments look. The game does actually appear to look slightly sharper than the PS3 version that released a year ago. Interestingly enough, Frozenbyte will be further enhancing the visuals with the same update that’s including voice chat support. I’m curious to see how much better they can actually make the visuals, as they already are stunning. Ari Pulkkinen (whom is known for his exceptional soundtracks for “OutLand” and “Dead Nation”, as well as the original “Trine”) is brought on board once again to provide another great soundtrack. Whether you’re exploring the lush jungles, scorching desert, or combating enemies, each track fits the game quite well. Some tracks are heroic, some charming, some more engaging, and they all blend to provide a soundtrack that nails the game’s atmosphere. The voice acting is decent as well, with the game having that fairy tale feel to it. None of the characters sound “too” serious, but they don’t sound mundane either. It’s that fine line of solid voice acting for the game it’s intended to be. Sound effects are also very effective. Whether you’re hearing the environmental ambiance, the exploding arrows hitting against an enemy, the fire sword swinging away, or even the audio muffling a bit when going underwater, the attention to detail is here.

A secret lingers in the Dwarven Caverns for our heroes…

Trine 2: Director’s Cut struck me by surprise to be completely honest. The game always seemed interesting but wasn’t sure how into it I would get. Frozenbyte has won me over with a title that really stood out. With it’s charming story, jaw-dropping visuals, great audio, impressive physics and unique gameplay, Trine 2: Director’s Cut is a great game that any Wii U owner can really dig into. It may be the priciest indie-based game available on the Wii U eShop at the moment ($19.99), but it’s well worth every penny and I highly recommend it for any platforming fans.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

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A special thank you to Frozenbyte for providing us review copies of Trine 2: Director’s Cut!

Nintendo Confirms Wii U eShop Titles Available Day One; Applications Postponed to “December”

In just over 24 hours, gamers nationwide will be grabbing Nintendo’s new console, the Wii U. Aside from the extensive launch title list, Nintendo has confirmed five downloadable games you can grab off the Wii U eShop on launch day, November 18th.

  • Chasing Aurora (Broken Rules)
  • Little Inferno (Tomorrow Corporation)
  • Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition (WayForward)
  • Nano Assault NEO (Shin’en)
  • Trine 2: Director’s Cut (Frozenbyte)

No prices have been confirmed at the moment, but we’re figuring they should be within the $9.99 to $14.99 price range. Also, there will be a few retail games available for download as well. No confirmation on the full list of retail titles available for download on launch day. However, there were a few that were confirmed:

  • Nintendo Land (Nintendo)
  • New Super Mario Bros. U (Nintendo)
  • TEKKEN Tag Tournament 2 Wii U Edition (Namco Bandai)

Keep in mind that if you’re getting the Basic 8GB model, you may want to invest in an external HDD if you plan on going digital. If you’re old-school (like me) and prefer to have the retail games with a disc and box, then the HDD space shouldn’t pose an immediate problem.

In additional news, if you’re looking to test out Nintendo TVii, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus or YouTube on the Wii U, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer. Nintendo confirmed earlier today that the applications aren’t 100% ready at the moment but will be fully functional in December. However, seeing as how the Wii’s OS is built-in to the Wii U and has the same exact Wii Shop Channel and startup menu, you may be able to still use the Wii versions of those applications (except for Nintendo TVii of course).

Are you interested in any of the downloadable titles mentioned above? Sound off in the comments below!